North Coast Rep. Mike Thompson voted Thursday against giving President Barack Obama “fast-track” trade authority in negotiations with nations in the Pacific Rim and Europe.
Thompson, D-St. Helena, was among 13 Democrats in the House Ways and Means Committee who voted against the legislation, which is similar to that passed earlier by the Senate Finance Committee. Two Democrats and 23 Republicans supported the bill, sponsored in the House by Rep. Paul Ryan, R-Wis. It now goes to the floor for consideration by the full House.
By his vote, Thompson broke with a local wine industry that mostly has contended that the special authority is crucial to help the Obama Administration to obtain better trade agreements, including a forthcoming Asia-Pacific pact.
“We should do all we can to grow exports because it means more jobs, but it cannot be done at the expense of American workers, health and safety, and the environment,” Thompson, D-St. Helena, said in a statement. “There is room for improvement in this bill and it is my hope that we can work across the aisle to make those improvements as the bill moves forward.”
A day before in the committee hearing, Thompson had displayed scepticism about the legislation when asking questions of administration officials who were voicing support of its passage.
“You said it’s good for American workers,” Thompson told Commerce Secretary Penny Pritzker. “Is it just coincidental that every American worker in my district that’s talked to me about this is solidly against it?”
Thompson acknowledged Wednesday that under the right conditions, increased exports could be “a huge win for my district” and the rest of the nation. But he added, “I’m just not sure that this TPA gets us to where we need to be.” He questioned why the legislation made no mention of climate change and asked whether future trade agreements could effectively void California rules on environmental and other protections.
On Thursday, Thompson and the other Democrats offered a series of amendments, all voted down by the majority.
Ryan, the committee chairman, said during the nearly 11 hours of debate that he seemed to be having “an out-of-body experience,” finding himself defending the proposal of a Democratic president from the criticism of other Democrats.
“This is a strange world we’re in these days,” Ryan said.
You can reach Staff Writer Robert Digitale at firstname.lastname@example.org or 521-5285.